NMBS/SNCB goes €142,6 million in the red in 2022

Belgian railway company NMBS/SNCB recorded a recurring operating loss of 142,6 million euros last year. Those debts were due to five consecutive wage indexations during the last year and sharply increased energy costs. Compensations from the federal government cushioned the impact so that NMBS/SNCB ended up with an operational result of 39,6 million euros. So, the board of directors could focus on the recently approved 2023-2026 transport plan.

The various wage indexations caused an additional cost of 82,4 million euros. Energy costs led to an additional cost of 73 million euros. The debt finally fell from 2 314 billion euros at the end of 2021 to 2 275 billion euros, below the contractual ceiling of 2 565 billion euros. NMBS/SNCB will invest a total of more than 9,2 billion euros over a 10-year period. Debt should, therefore, be reduced to 1,6 billion euros by 2032.

New investments

Last year, 786,7 million euros were invested in improving services, of which more than half (437 million euros) were in the renovation of rolling stock and new M7 double-decker coaches. Currently, more than 250 of the 445 ordered carriages have been delivered, according to NMBS/SNCB.

Moreover, by the end of 2022, more than 80% of the fleet was equipped with the safety system ETCS (European Train Control System). NMBS/SNCB aims to renew half of its fleet by 2032 and be one of the first train operators to have the entire fleet equipped with the safety system ETCS by 2025.

Impact of teleworking

NMBS/SNCB also recruited 1 300 people last year and plans to recruit another 1 600 this year. By the end of 2022, the railway company had 16 638 employees.

The total number of domestic passengers last year clocked in at 227,4 million, 32,4% more than in 2021 but still below the 2019 level (253,4 million). While commuting and leisure traffic have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the number of commuting season tickets at the end of 2022 was some 15% below 2019 levels. Teleworking is, according to NMBS/SNCB, “firmly embedded in the charged travel habits of a large part of the customer base.”

No stops will be closed

Last week, the board of directors also approved the 2023-2026 transport plan. With that transport plan, NMBS/SNCB aims to achieve “an annual production of 89,5 million train kilometers by 2026, an increase of 7,4% to the current offer.”

NMBS/SNCB plans to use up to 2 000 extra trains per week by 2026, have later trains, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, and will not close any stops, although the rail company states that an “optimization” of the number of stops is needed. However, any decisions on this are for a subsequent transport plan.

A new stop – Braine-L’Alliance – would also be opened in December 2025, and the relocated Moensberg (Uccle) stop in June 2025. Peak-hour trains, or the so-called P-trains, do see 22 cuts. According to NMBS/SNCB, these are trains “for which there are alternatives without significant waiting time”. But with the trains and staff freed up as a result, the company will reinstate 12 P-trains “on connections where passenger numbers are rising sharply”.

10 000 extra seats

In general, the new transport plan focuses on developing the offer around major cities such as Brussels, Antwerp, and Liège, as well as better connections between major cities at weekends. Thus, there will be two hourly IC trains on weekends between Brussels, Leuven and Liège, Antwerp and Leuven, Courtrai and Bruges, Brussels and Charleroi, and Brussels and Mons. There will also be nearly 50 extra S trains running on Friday and Saturday evenings from Brussels and Antwerp to various cities, “including 30 until after 1 a.m.”.

Furthermore, Charleroi airport, for example, will be better served (via Fleurus station), and there will be a three-country train between Liège, Maastricht, and Aachen, and a connection between Liège, Verviers, and Aachen.

However, two conditions are attached to the roll-out of the transport plan: the railway company must find enough people (for example, 500 train conductors and drivers this year), and train builder Alstom must deliver new trains on time. If the latter happens, there should be 10 000 extra seats by the end of the transport plan.

“The ambition expressed in this new transport plan must be fulfilled by NMBS/SNCB to attract more passengers to the greenest means of transport,” says Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo). The Council of Ministers has yet to approve the transport plan.


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